Roadside Classic: 1962 Ford F-Series — McNamara’s Frivolity?

Up a dusty unpaved road in Washington state’s Olympic Mountains is an abandoned 1962 Ford F-Series truck with a “Rust in Peace” sign propping up the hood. I can’t think of a more ironic truck to have been left deep in the rainforest near the Quinault River. The 1961-63 F-Series Styleside is the granddaddy of the “lifestyle” truck.

Mike Levine of wrote that Ford had high hopes of expanding sales to suburbanites by emphasizing a more comfortable ride, a roomier cab and Ranchero-like styling that integrated the cab and bed on Styleside models.

The Quinault River Valley has always had a few rich folks with summer homes, but for years a goodly proportion of year-round residents worked in logging and fishing. Fancy truck styling took a back seat to hard-core functionality. This 1962 Ford may have disappointed on the latter front.

“Stories percolating through the Internet tell of unibody owners who would load their trucks, only to discover that the sills had distorted enough to jam the doors shut,” Levine wrote. “Yet others tell tales of having a fully laden truck twist badly enough to pop a door open when crossing railroad tracks. Age and corrosion only exacerbated issues as the load-bearing bodies began to perforate and rust.”

Ron, a Curbside Classic commentator, stated that the wrap-around rear window on the top-end Styleside models had a “terrible reputation” for popping out in response to “the twisting and flexing a work truck had to do.” The pictured truck includes the Styleside’s integrated sheetmetal but does not have the wrap-around rear window.

The unibody proved troublesome enough that Ford introduced a separate cab-and-bed model in mid-1962, and by the end of the 1963 model year it was outselling the unibody version by two-to-one, according to Levine. That was despite the bed coming from the 1960 F-Series, so its styling didn’t match.

Ford’s experience was bad enough that for years thereafter the automaker was more cautious than General Motors in making its trucks more car-like.

I have yet to satisfactorily answer why such a stylish truck was developed during the reign of Robert McNamara. He was Ford Division general manager from 1955-57 and vice president of the Car and Truck Group until November 1960, when he briefly became company president before joining the Kennedy administration as defense secretary, according to Aaron Severson. Presumably McNamara had the power to put the brakes on this new design direction if he had wanted to.

McNamara has been described by automotive historians as the antithesis of a Detroit “car guy.” He “preferred smaller and more utilitarian cars than those his company was making,” noted journalist David Halberstam in his book, The Reckoning.

McNamara reportedly marked the Edsel for elimination even before it was launched, he considered discontinuing the Lincoln, and under his tenure the number of large Mercury models was radically scaled back in favor of an ambitious range of smaller cars.

Brock Yates described one of Ford’s new entries, the Falcon, as a “mediocre economy sedan” that appealed to McNamara’s “humorless, somewhat Spartan personal predilections.”

Severson has argued that McNamara had more design taste than is commonly assumed. However, the F-Series had long maintained the utilitarian heritage of the Model T more than any other Ford. Why throw away that legacy by turning the F-Series into a fashion statement?

Whatever the reason, the unibody sold so poorly – and undercut Ford’s reputation for building rugged trucks – that it was discontinued after the 1963 model year.

One can only imagine why the Styleside pickup pictured here was abandoned. However, the tie-down hooks on the side and construction materials in the bed suggest that this truck did not enjoy a life of frivolity in the suburbs. I wonder if this Ford would have been on the road longer if its owner had instead opted for the separate cab-and-bed version?



Related reading at CC 1962 Ford F100 Styleside – That Most Feminine Truck  by PN